MANCHESTER: Joe Root is in no doubt he should remain as England’s Test captain despite presiding over their first failure to win a home Ashes series in 18 years (partly reported in Monday’s edition).
England were looking to regain the Ashes after a humiliating 4-0 loss under Root in Australia in 2017-18.
But Australia’s 185-run victory in the fourth Test at Old Trafford on Sunday left them with an unassailable 2-1 lead in the five-match series ahead of next week’s finale at the Oval.
Root, whose tactical acumen has been questioned this series, may be England’s best batsman but three of his last five Test innings have ended in ducks.
Nevertheless, he had no doubts about continuing in the often stressful role of England captain.
“Definitely, yes,” the 28-year-old said when asked if he still felt he was the right man for the job. “Whenever you lose a series it hurts and I have to take that on the chin. It’s still very raw. You have to look at areas you want to get better at, both in yourself and as a team.
“But I have been given a fantastic opportunity to captain the Test side and will continue to work very hard doing my best at that.”
This was England’s first defeat in an Old Trafford Test since 2001 and Root, one of several players also involved in this season’s World Cup triumph, has little time in which to revive flagging spirits ahead of Thursday’s start at The Oval.
England, however, could still end this series all square at 2-2 and gain valuable points in the inaugural World Test Championship with a victory in south London.
“It’s important to look at next week,” said Root. “We have an important Test match against Australia and we have to make sure we finish this summer strong: do not lose this Ashes series.
“We have the Test championship to play for, do not lose this Ashes series. It matters to me, it matters to everyone involved. I know the Ashes are not coming home but in terms of the Test championship, at the end of the two-year cycle those points could be crucial.
Root’s side went into the final day looking to save a draw, with eight wickets remaining, and managed to take the game into the final hour.
It was not another Headingley ‘miracle’ comeback in the manner of the previous Test, but instead a genuine effort appreciated by the crowd, who cheered every dot ball.
“As before, we always believe and we fight right to the end. Another great test match, but it’s bitterly disappointing,” said Root. “From our point of view, I am really proud. You learn a lot about your team. Everyone stood up and played bravely.”
Meanwhile, Australia captain Tim Paine hailed Steve Smith as the best player he has ever seen after the star batsman picked up the man-of-the match award in the fourth Test.
Smith scored 211 and 82 in the game to take his tally for the series to an astonishing 671 runs at an average innings of 134.2, including three hundreds, despite missing England’s one-wicket win in the third Test at Headingley with concussion.
“I’m not sure I have ever played better,” Smith told Sky Sports. “I have enjoyed my time in the middle. I have come back fresh from a year out, but relaxed and chilled out. I want to be the one in the middle doing my job for the team as I don’t particularly enjoy watching cricket.”
Paine said: “Steve is the best player I have ever seen. He showed that again in this Test match. He knows the game so well and reads it so well.”
Australia coach Justin Langer also hailed Smith, who tops the global Test batting rankings after returning from a 12-month ball-tampering ban.
“We’ve got the best fast bowler in the world [Pat Cummins] and the best Test batsman in the world,” he told Sky Sports. “I thought Virat Kohli was the best batsman I’ve ever seen because of the way he plays in all forms, but Steve Smith... That’s another level. He’s a great problem-solver. His hunger for the game, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
AUSTRALIA (1st Innings) 497-8 declared (S.P.D. Smith 211, M. Labuschagne 67, T.D. Paine 58, M.A. Starc 54 not out; S.C.J. Broad 3-97).
ENGLAND (1st Innings) 301 (R.J. Burns 81, J.E. Root 71, J.C. Buttler 41; J.R. Hazlewood 4-57, P.J. Cummins 3-60, M.A. Starc 3-80).
AUSTRALIA (2nd Innings) 186-6 declared (S.P.D. Smith 82; J.C. Archer 3-45).
ENGLAND (2nd Innings):
R.J. Burns c Head b Cummins 0
J.L. Denly c Labuschagne b Lyon 53
J.E. Root b Cummins 0
J.J. Roy b Cummins 31
B.A. Stokes c Paine b Cummins 1
J.M. Bairstow lbw b Starc 25
J.C. Buttler b Hazlewood 34
C. Overton lbw b Hazlewood 21
J.C. Archer lbw b Lyon 1
M.J. Leach c Wade b Labuschagne 12
S.C.J. Broad not out 0
EXTRAS (B-9, LB-8, NB-2) 19
TOTAL (all out, 91.3 overs) 197
FALL OF WKTS: 1-0, 2-0, 3-66, 4-74, 5-93, 6-138, 7-172, 8-173, 9-196.
BOWLING: Cummins 24-9-43-4 (2nb); Hazlewood 17.3-5-31-2; Lyon 29-12-51-2; Starc 16-2-46-1; Labuschagne 4-1-9-1; Head 1-1-0-0.
RESULT: Australia won by 185 runs to lead five-match series 2-1.
UMPIRES: H.D.P.K. Dharmasena (Sri Lanka) and M. Erasmus (South Africa).
TV UMPIRE: R.S.A. Palliyaguruge (Sri Lanka).
MATCH REFEREE: J. Srinath (India).
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Steve Smith.
FIRST TEST: Edgbaston, Australia won by 251 runs.
SECOND TEST: Lord’s, match drawn.
THIRD TEST: Headingley, England won by one wicket.
FIFTH TEST: The Oval, Sept 12-16.
Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2019